Perhaps when you weigh everything up, it is only right that this unique World Snooker Championship belongs to Ronnie O’Sullivan. There are many words you could use to describe the six-times world champion away from the baize, but when it comes to moments like these, there are simply not enough superlatives to describe snooker’s great ringmaster.
You wondered whether the impact of fans being unable to attend the majority of this year’s event would stunt the flow of the sport’s big names. But not O’Sullivan. You often wonder how the tag of being overwhelming favourite can play on the mind of a sportsman in a final. Not O’Sullivan, who had realistically put this final to bed long before he formally did so at 7:47pm on Sunday evening.
Maybe the final scoreline was harsh on Kyren Wilson, who has emerged as one of the sport’s true stars of the future on the way to his first world final. In any other match, against any other opponent, the chances he missed on Sunday afternoon when the final definitively went against him would have not been so costly.
But after limping – certainly by his own lofty standards – his way to a three-frame overnight lead on Saturday, you always felt as though snooker’s true rock and roll star had something special up his sleeve. O’Sullivan was inside the Crucible from 9am on Sunday morning practising, and just a few hours later, he had won a blistering afternoon session 7-1 to move 17-8 ahead.
So stunned was Wilson by O’Sullivan’s brilliance that at one stage he attempted to leave the arena following the penultimate frame of the afternoon, only to be reminded that there was still one more chastening frame for him to endure. By the end of the session, O’Sullivan knew just one frame in the evening would secure world title number six.
Granted, he is still one behind the king of the Crucible, Stephen Hendry. But that is pretty much the only record that O’Sullivan has left to mop up in this sport that he has revolutionised over the last quarter of a century. In truth, O’Sullivan is Lionel Messi. He is Roger Federer. He is Phil Taylor. He transcends his sport with his popularity and the way he plays the game.
At times on Sunday afternoon, O’Sullivan looked incapable of missing. He played with such minimal ambidextrous effort that you felt every single mistake Wilson made – and yes, there were several – was going to be punished. More often than not, O’Sullivan obliged. From a laborious, error-strewn display on Saturday to the brilliance of Sunday: few, if any, players can go between such extremes in just a few short hours.
Brutally, Wilson was given just one opportunity to pot a ball in the evening session. When he did so, running into the pack and finishing out of position, it felt like a microcosm of his final. The key moments went against Wilson here, but he will be back, and he will surely be a world champion of the future. He will just hope he doesn’t run into O’Sullivan in this mood again.
O’Sullivan’s claims that the sport’s lower-ranked players would not even be ‘half-decent amateurs’ earlier in the tournament were outlandish and, given the improvement in the depth of the professional tour, unfair. But even now, 23 years on from that record-breaking 147 which announced his arrival at the Crucible, snooker still needs him more than he needs snooker.
That, in truth, may never change until the day O’Sullivan finally comes good on his promise to walk away from the sport. After breaks of 73, 75 and 71 in the afternoon session, the job was as good as done. When he strolled his way to the match-winning break of 96 within minutes of entering the arena on Sunday evening, even Wilson couldn’t help but applaud what he had just seen.
There are already an overwhelming majority within snooker who believe O’Sullivan is undisputedly the greatest player ever to pick up a cue. As he lifted the sport’s most prestigious prize above his head for a sixth time, you felt that even the few detractors remaining must now concede defeat and accept that O’Sullivan is in a league of his own. The master of the baize is once again the champion at the Crucible, and all eyes will now turn to whether he can emulate Hendry and, at the age of 44, reach world title number seven. You wouldn’t bet against it.